Football briefs: Dolphins stagnant in talks for emerging linebacker

Pro Football Weekly staff

The Way We Hear It: Dolphins stagnant in talks for emerging linebacker

Things have been surprisingly quiet on the contract front for ILB Channing Crowder. The fourth-year veteran is in the final season of his rookie deal, prompting some to wonder why the Dolphins are taking such a passive approach to locking him up long term.

According to a source close to the linebacker, Crowder’s representatives were engaged in preliminary talks with Miami’s front-office executives back in August, but the club hasn’t kept up the communication. It’s a curious tactic, considering how proactive it has been in working out extensions for more red-flagged players — specifically, troubled RB Ricky Williams and injury-risk S Yeremiah Bell, whom we hear they’re currently negotiating with.

“It’s baffling,” the source said. “You would think they’d want to lock down one of the best players on their defense, especially given how young (24) he is. Every day they wait, his price tag goes up. Every day they wait, the leverage shifts more to Channing. And there’s no way they’d franchise him.”

Crowder missed five games a season ago with a right knee injury, the only games he has missed in his career. This season, Crowder — Miami’s second-leading tackler — has helped transform the league’s worst run defense in ’07 into a solid unit against the run. The Dolphins limited the Chargers to 60 rushing yards in Week Five. However, Miami’s current silence doesn’t necessarily suggest that there’s no chance Crowder suits up for the Fins in ’09. A club observer we talked to before the season told us that it wouldn’t be surprising if team decision makers wait until they see more of a body of work from Crowder before deciding whether he’s the type of player they want to keep around. While the 6-2, 250-pounder fits the description of the big, young box defender the Dolphins want to outfit their 3-4 defense with, the new Miami regime doesn’t yet have a complete reading on the holdover players.

Although his play in coverage is spotty, Crowder could well be offered an extension at some point during the season if he continues to be stout vs. the run. However, the source cautioned that if the linebacker’s clout within the league continues to grow and the Dolphins hold off offering a new deal until late, he may opt to wait until free agency begins to see what kind of deals he’d attract from other clubs.

NFL whispers

RAIDERS: The Raiders are eagerly awaiting the return of RB Justin Fargas, who missed two games with a groin injury, in Week Six, and not just because of his tough, decisive running style. Fargas is the team’s best pass-blocking back, and rookie RB Darren McFadden has really struggled with that task.

RAVENS: Keep an eye on the Ravens’ RB situation. Willis McGahee’s injury problems are well known; he’s battled knee, eye and rib injuries already this season. Backup Le’Ron McClain has been one of the surprises of the season to date, but we’re told the Ravens have some lingering concerns about his conditioning, and he is receiving a far heavier workload than he’s ever had in his professional or collegiate career.

49ERS: Don’t be surprised if Niners rookie WR Josh Morgan becomes more of a factor in the team’s passing game. Morgan reportedly lost 15 pounds and considerable energy after picking up a staph infection in the preseason, but we’re told he is close to being back to his normal playing weight and is telling team insiders that he feels a lot better. You also shouldn’t be surprised by more appearances in the offense by CB-RS Allen Rossum. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has always had an affinity for small receivers (Shaun McDonald, Mike Furrey), and we hear he likes Rossum in that role.

The Fantasy Buzz

Considering the receivers Bears QB Kyle Orton is surrounded by — and the way he has played in the past — his performances of late have been incredible. On the heels of last week’s three-TD game vs. the Eagles, Orton had a career-high 334 yards and two TDs Sunday at Detroit — without top target Brandon Lloyd. With matchups against the Falcons, Vikings and Lions coming up, Orton should be in line for a few more big days. If you need a backup QB, he has become a surprisingly reliable option.

If you saw Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger play Sunday night, he was pretty amazing. Despite being swarmed by heavy Jaguars pressure all night, he was able to have, by far, his best game of the season, throwing for 309 yards and three scores. However, the fact that he’s playing with an injured throwing shoulder and has a very difficult schedule the rest of the way makes me wary of him repeating this effort. It’s likely Big Ben just gave you his best statistical performance of the season; sell him now before he goes downhill or gets hurt worse.

A few weeks ago, very few fantasy analysts expected to ever suggest RB Cedric Benson would be a worthy fantasy pickup, but he has landed in exactly the right situation. In his first game as a Bengal Sunday, Benson had 10 carries; starter Chris Perry only had 13. If Perry continues to experience severe fumbling problems, Benson could see his playing time steadily increase. No, he’s not likely to be a big-time producer, but the former Bear could do enough to merit flex consideration if you get bit by the injury or bye-week bug.

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